Saturday, January 13, 2018

HR 4766 Introduced – PTC Extensions

Earlier this week Rep. DeFazio (D,NJ) introduced HR 4766, the Positive Train Control Implementation and Financing Act of 2018. It would amend 49 USC 20157, removing the discretionary authority of the Transportation Secretary to approve alternative PTC implementation plans that extend past the current PTC deadline of December 31st, 2018.

The Amendment

Section 2 of the bill removes two specific sub-paragraphs of §20157. First it removes §20157(a)(2)(B), thus removing the authority for railroads to propose alternative implementation schedules extending beyond 12-31-18. It also removes §20157(a)(3) which provides the Secretary with specific guidance on how such alternative schedules may be approved. A number of conforming amendments are also made.

Grant Program

Section 3 of the bill would add paragraph (m) to §20157 to establish a grant program administered by the Secretary to aid passenger railroads in their implementation of PTC. That grant program would be funded through December 31st and $2.6 Billion would be authorized for those grants.

New Passenger Routes

Section 4 of the bill would add a new paragraph (n) that would prohibit railroads from starting operation of new passenger line routes “unless a positive train control system is fully implemented and operational on such route”.

Moving Forward

DeFazio is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to which this bill was assigned for consideration. This means that it is possible that this bill may be considered in Committee.

Two things mitigate this bill from being positively considered. First, removing the authority for extending PTC implementation deadlines past December 31st could mean that certain passenger (and perhaps some freight rail) lines may have to suspend operations after that date if their PTC implementation has not been completed and approved by that date. This is, of course, the incentive that DeFazio intends this bill to be to drive the earliest possible implementation of PTC for passenger rail lines. Unfortunately, this also means that potentially affected railroads and their supported communities can be expected to oppose this legislation.

The second factor that by itself will almost certainly mean that the bill will not be considered in Committee is the funding of the $2.6 Billion grant program. Coming up with this new money will be a nearly impossible hurdle to overcome.


The recent Amtrak derailment is almost certainly a major impetus for the introduction of this bill. If the timing alone was not enough of a clue, then the §4 provisions would be the final give away. Still, DeFazio is not a new comer to the expression of concerns about the ‘slow pace’ of PTC implementation. Anyone that has been paying attention over the last five years or so should not be surprised by either the provisions of §2 or the grant program in §3. Unfortunately, this bill comes too late in the game to either be effective or even pass.

PTC systems will be in place on all passenger rail lines (and many if certainly not most freight lines) in the not too distant future (just do not hold your breath for 12-31-18 on every line). It will eliminate a certain class of human-error related railroad accidents. It will not, however, signal a new, significantly safer era of railroad transportation. Mechanical problems and rail defects will still cause many (most?) accidents and I expect we will see an increase in attacks (inevitably including cyber attacks on PTC systems) by nut jobs and radicals of a number of different persuasions.

Railroads will be incrementally safer because of the costly PTC systems (and still immensely safer than our highways), but I do not believe that anyone ten years from now will claim that it was a cost-effective way to increase the safety of this transportation mode.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */